Cape Town - Since the start of April, 69 endangered African penguin chicks have been admitted to the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) centre in Cape St Francis, after being discovered in a very weak, emaciated state by the Marine Section Rangers of the Addo Elephant National Park on St Croix Island in Algoa Bay.
According to SANCCOB, the adult penguins nesting on the island are struggling to find sufficient fish and are also, therefore, unable to feed their young. The penguin chicks will now need to be hand-reared in order to survive.
Five groups of weak penguin chicks have been rescued thus far, on separate occasions, by the Marine Section Rangers, often amid inclement weather conditions and high swells around the island.
Juanita Raath for SANCCOB says, “The chicks that have been admitted were very skinny, dehydrated and malnourished. They are fed six times a day with a special formula made up of blended fish, water and a variety of vitamins to boost their immune systems.
The smallest chick admitted thus far weighed only 330 grams on admission. Luckily, four weeks later, the chick is doing well and weighing 1.2kg.
The rehabilitation of a chick can take anything from six weeks to three months, depending on their size and condition. These penguin chicks will receive extra special treatment from SANCCOB staff and volunteers until, as juvenile penguins, they are deemed fit and healthy enough for release back into an established colony, under careful monitoring from colony managers, SANParks.
Algoa Bay is home to approximately 60% of South Africa’s endangered African penguin population.
'Survival of individual penguins critical'
The diminishing supply of fish stocks remains one of the major threats to the survival of the species, SANCCOB says. Once considered to be one of South Africa’s most iconic species, the African penguin was classified as endangered in 2010.
With an estimated 25 000 breeding pairs left in the wild, the population is now at approximately 2.5% of the estimated figure of one million breeding pairs, as recorded in the early 20th century.
The survival of individual penguins, like the rescued chicks, is critical, SANCCOB says.
Rescuing endangered African penguin chicks forms part of the Chick Bolstering Project (CBP), a multi-partner project between SANCCOB, the Bristol Zoological Society, the Animal Demography Unit (University of Cape Town), South African Department of Environmental Affairs (Oceans and Coasts), CapeNature, Robben Island Museum and SANParks.
Since the project’s inception in 2006, SANCCOB has successfully released more than 4 000 chicks back into the wild. Independent research confirms that the survival rates for these hand-reared penguins are similar to those of naturally-reared birds, making it an effective conservation intervention.
Want to help? Here's how:
Members of the public can adopt, name and support a penguin from SANCCOB, starting from R500.
As a non-profit organisation, SANCCOB asks the public to help raise these African penguin chicks by contributing towards their rehabilitation costs:
R230 buys two boxes of fish
R500 helps to buy medicine and veterinary supplies
R1000 helps to feed and care for one chick
Donations can be made directly to SANCCOB’s website.